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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Phantasie in C major, op 17 (1839) [30:12]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Sonata in B minor, S.178 (1853) [29:11]
Sándor Falvai (piano)
rec. November 2015, Phoenix Studio, Diósd, Hungary

Recordings of Franz Liszt’s Piano Sonata somehow build up in my library. How many can I stand? Quite a few, apparently. Despite my occasional pruning, this new version is a highly welcome addition. I was unfamiliar with Sándor Falvai, who is a distinguished Hungarian pianist, and former director of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. His is a fine performance.

The Liszt Sonata often becomes a platform primarily for virtuoso display, often quite dazzling and fun. But all the razzle-dazzle can get in the way of the actual music. Falvai gives us virtuosity in the service of music.

Falvai is certainly virtuoso enough. Crisply articulated cascades early in the piece inform the listener that his technique is completely assured. Falvai moves through the Sonata at a smart pace, completing it in under thirty minutes, a bit faster than most. Although he never seems rushed, he delivers plenty of drama by knowing when to heighten the tension, sometimes through silence. This is a seasoned, well-considered interpretation that still manages to end somewhat dreamily, as if gazing upon the stars.

Liszt dedicated his sonata to Schumann, whose Phantasie in C major, Op. 17 was dedicated to Liszt. Liszt never played the Schumann in public, nor did Schumann the Liszt. There are only five other recordings of this natural pairing, one by Pollini.

Schumann began his work as part of a campaign to raise funds to build a monument to Beethoven in Bonn, later deciding to offer the work in praise of Liszt. While ostensibly inspired by Beethoven, Schumann was also motivated by his great love, Clara Wieck, from whom he was separated by her father. Schumann inserted coded passages, quoting Beethoven’s An die ferne geliebte to underscore his message to his own distant beloved.

Falvai’s intelligent and energetic approach does not quite overcome my lingering lack of enthusiasm for Schumann. I somehow get stuck at the four-square rhythms and gloomy atmosphere. Falvai conveys his Schumann enthusiasm clearly, producing some wonderful sounds at the end of I (originally entitled “Ruins” before the published version removed all titles). The second movement march (once called “Triumphal arch”) steps along nicely, if somewhat obsessively, with cleanly dispatched dotted rhythms. The final movement is poetic and intense.
The notes are in German only, although I cannot imagine this would dissuade a reader of MusicWeb International from purchasing this fine disc. Falvai’s Liszt is exceptional, and if the interesting Liszt-Schumann mutual admiration society appeals, this should be an easy choice.

Richard Kraus



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